It has never been easier to become a game developer. A plethora of software is available for complete newcomers, often free, each with a large pool of tutorials and other learning resources. Forums and support communities are a dime a dozen with entire websites catered to the needs of budding games developers.
So, wannabe game developers are spoiled for choice when it comes to the diversity of tools available to them. In fact, the variety of options can often be daunting. What engine do I get started in? Who makes my music? How do I even start creating my character? It might sound a bit scary. We know that it’s dangerous to go alone! Take this list of the essential tools for. We hope it will offer a bit of guidance for those new developers staring, mouths agape, at the sheer choice of software.
Unity is the go-to engine for indie game developers. It’s free, it integrates well with almost all major asset creation software, and it has a thriving community constantly adding to its rich library of tutorials. Whatever it is you’re looking to do, whatever the type of game you’re planning to make, you’re likely to find just the tutorial for it.
On integration, Unity allows for real-time editing of models and textures from within your favorite graphic editing software. Want to tweak the texture on that table? Hop into Photoshop, make your changes and save. Switch back to Unity and you’ll find it has slapped that new texture onto the table right away. No need for refreshing or re-importing assets for every minor change.
Its greatest strength? The engine is called Unity for a reason. It supports exporting to multiple platforms with a simple click. Porting your game from PC to the major consoles has never been easier. This also works wonderfully if you’re building a mobile game. You may not have an Android device, but if your Unity game works on your iPhone then it’s no problem at all. Simply port it to Android and your game is ready for release on the Google Play Store. No extra work on your end.
Unless you’re planning to make a text-based adventure title in 2019, you’re going to need some sort of software for creating graphics for your game. Adobe Photoshop is the first choice for most developers. It’s the industry standard and is now more affordable than it’s ever been.
Your game will need a user interface, a title screen, a pause screen, character and enemy sprites, attack animations, item sprites, various ground tile designs, and about a hundred other things that would fill this page. Photoshop does graphic creation best and sprite sheets are a breeze to make in it, but it also comes with a rudimentary animation interface so you can get to animating within the same software.
If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the thought of learning new software, you shouldn’t be. YouTube is filled with in-depth tutorials that explain how to use Photoshop in the context of game design. It is the most popular graphics editing software, after all, and you won’t be wanting for discussion and guidance. Pull up one of the thousands of Photoshop tutorials available online and get learning!
If Photoshop’s price tag is a bit out of your range, GIMP is a great freeware alternative. It’s also a bit lighter on the CPU and contains all of the basic functionality of Photoshop.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
The solo indie developer is a renaissance man by necessity. Not only are you coding and designing the game yourself, but you’re also creating the graphics and interfaces. And, yes, your game is going to need sound effects and music.
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little piece of software called Pro Tools? It’s the application that professional musicians and producers use to create their albums, and you’re going to need it as well to start constructing the audio for your title.
DAWs are essentially sonic playgrounds. You have your pick of samples, instruments, and wave shapes, your only limit is your imagination. Since it’s all digital, you’re free to experiment as much as you like until you find the right notes or sound to express what you want to express.
If you’ve got a Mac, you’ve already got a basic DAW installed right on your laptop! Garageband is a stripped-down version of Logic Pro X, and it offers all the tools you need to start creating music right away. Windows users should look into the T7 DAW, a completely free DAW that promises full functionality with no restrictions or limits.
You’ve got your character designed and ready to go in Photoshop, but how do you go about animating it? Photoshop allows for simple 2D cel animation (frame-by-frame), but that can be time-consuming and downright impossible if you don’t have a background in animation.
Spine to the rescue! Spine lets you take your 2D character and rig it to a skeleton system. Using Spine, the 2D animation process is nearly effortless. It works on the basic principles of animation that power the animations produced by major studios, such as Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman. Its simple interface and intuitive systems are perfect for newcomers. You can go in blind and start and rigging and animating in half an hour!
Spine also fully supports the Unity engine. You can take your character assets, rig it, and create as many different animations as you want. Unity will take that character and automatically import all of those animations you made. The process is hassle-free and nearly instant. No need to fiddle with settings. It just works.
For the longest time, Blender was the “weird” 3D graphics software. Its user interface was strange and refused to adhere to basic OS conventions. Manipulation of items on the screen required almost superhuman memory; even the most basic of functions, like moving an object from point A to point B, required hotkeys and shortcuts.
With the release of Blender 2.8, all of its quirks and eccentricities were thrown out the window. It’s a much more conventional interface, making it a hundred times easier to pick up and use. Now people are just learning what its diehard community has been saying all these years: Blender is possibly the most powerful, robust 3D asset creation software on the market.
What used to take two or three different applications to do can all be done in Blender. Of course, you can create meshes and block out character models in Blender. You can also switch to its sculpt mode, an advanced tool that allows you to more finely adjust the minute details of your build, adding wrinkles, braids, and pores. It has a powerful physics system with advanced particles generation, accurate cloth simulation, and a simple click interface to bake animations (a resource saver for game developers). Want to create textures? Jump into its paint mode and start painting your textures right onto the character model. Its real-time Eevee engine, new in 2.8, allows for greater freedom and experimentation, reducing the massive render times that are inherent in most 3D software.
Building a video game is a long, arduous journey. Those going in with nothing but an idea might be reluctant to take the leap, but if you dedicate the time and invest the resources, you’ll find the process a fulfilling one. You might be a bit confused and afraid, but hopefully, this list of essential game developer tools has at least given you a push in the right direction.